Recently, I learned one of my business mentors passed away. I won’t give you her name, because she was a surprisingly private person. No Facebook or Twitter on any online presence, even though she was of the generation (mine) where those things are most common. She was my boss years ago; two companies and three departments ago. I learned a lot from her, more than any manager before. Losing her made me stop and think about the good stuff she has taught me… stuff I think I will pass on to you.
Watch your stack of chips
This is about asking for, and cashing in on, favors. Let’s say you are late a few days a week, even by just a couple of minutes. Let’s say you take a sick day about every quarter. You don’t have many ‘chips’ left to cash in. Want to get out early this Friday to go see Star Wars? Not if you are in the above group. However, let’s say you are early every day, and hardly even take vacation. When you are that kind of employee, the boss is eager to help you out and give you a good break by looking the other way on policy.
For me, and my line of work, it is often customer credits. Do you max out your customer credit limit every week? Maybe it is $40, maybe it is $4,000. You consider yourself a customer advocate, doing right by them every chance you get. Are you saying “well, I certainly didn’t screw this up, but You aren’t seen that way, though. You are seen as someone who is wasteful of the company’s resources. Yes, we messed this up. BUT… we are still a business and still need to make a profit… or no one gets helped. When you see an epic screw up that was made, and you want the boss to foot $1200 to make this right… are you mister miser, or someone who hands out credits like it’s Christmas morning?
You are applying for your next job every day
They say ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’. Here is a better way she taught us to look at it. Every day, in every interaction, you are applying for that promotion. Are you agreeable and helpful always? Are you a drama queen that is always put upon, talking about the company in terms of ‘they’ all the time, instead of ‘we’? She said when people applied for a promotion that she worked with, she knew long before the interview if they should be promoted. In fact, she knew before you even posted for the job if you would get it. She knew if you were going to apply for it, even.
Speaking of that promotion, this aspect ties to the last two principles. Are you someone who applies for every promotion? If so, it shows you aren’t someone looking to better themselves in a new opportunity so much as someone who is dying to do anything else. See, posting for every job that comes up doesn’t say “I think I am ready to lead the new team of battery salespeople”. It says “oh my god, I am SO bored.” When you post to everything, people notice, and it can look sad and desperate. What should you do, then, when you find yourself in that situation? Talk to your manager when there is not a posting out. Be honest “I feel like I am stagnant in this position, and that I could do more for the company and myself in a new adventure. You have worked with me. Is there something you see in me that would help point me in a new direction? What can I be doing now to better prepare myself for that next step?”
You see, now when an opportunity comes up… they are thinking of you, and the initiative you took to be ready for the next level.
Influence the influencers
Whenever you roll out a change, you know people are going to bitch and moan. “They don’t even know what they are doing”, “they don’t even care what it is like to talk to these people” “who are these people who make these decisions on high, with no feet in the real world?” Don’t believe me? Step out to the smoking patio at every single company in America, and you will hear that within 30 seconds. For some reason, smokers are always the worst at this drama. My manager had a way to brilliantly head this off. Find the most influential drama maker… and rope them in early on the change. Sit them down, privately, and say “I value your opinion. You know the customer and the systems as well as anyone here. Here is what we are thinking. Do you think this will work? Is there anything we should tweak to make it a better employee experience? Here are the reasons why we think we should do this as a company”.
This works on so many levels, it is scary. First off, you get valuable feedback from the front line. It isn’t just an all hands/town hall meeting where the ‘suits’ stand up and give same speech. It is the boss saying “Ron, how do you think we should handle this?” With the feedback from the front line, you can make the roll out that much smoother for them. PLUS… Ron isn’t out bitching about how the managers have no idea what they are doing. PLUS… when people are bitching to Ron about the same, Ron will instead come back to his bitchy peers and say “no, actually it makes a lot of sense. We had to do X because of Y. I actually helped the development of the whole thing”. You neutralized Ron’s bitchiness, Ron is now spinning positively on your behalf to his peers about the change, and Ron feels like a real asset to the company, and on the inner sanctum of how the business actually runs.
I am sure there was much more, but just these three principals have guided me in business and in life. In short, take accountability, stop bitching, and be a positive and hard working presence. It will be noticed, appreciated, and will pay off.
It’s possible, of course, you have a sucky boss, and maybe you think little of this applies. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt. She had a great cartoon up in her office that said something to the effect of “multi-tasking just means you are doing many things poorly at the same time”
I am sad, and I miss my old boss. I am thankful for the business lessons she taught me… always by example.